THUNDER BAY – Prior to Friday night, it had been more than a dozen years since the Lakehead Thunderwolves last defeated the Windsor Lancers women’s basketball team.
It was a dubious futility streak that stretched 19 games, the Lancers capturing five national championships along the way.
Add in a couple of playoff losses to Windsor, including a heartbreaker in 2015 when a stray elbow knocked national most valuable player Jylisa Williams out of the OUA seminfinal with a concussion, and Friday night’s game was one LU coach Jon Kreiner desperately wanted to win.
“It’s gets a bit of that monkey off our backs and it was kind of a mental hurdle,” Kreiner said, his team hanging on to pull out a 54-50 win, backed by 26 from reigning OUA most valuable player Leashja Grant, who hauled in 11 rebounds to record her ninth straight double-double.
“I think you saw a little bit of that creep in with some frustrations at moments, but I think our final timeout we said this is why we’ve improved as a team and we’re able to handle these types of situations. And the girls all kind of nodded their heads and went out and finished it strong.”
Grant had little choice but to muscle her way through the paint, the rest of the Thunderwolves struggling to find their range, particularly from beyond the arc, where they hit just three of 16 attempts, on a night when they shot just 31.7 per cent from the field.
The 12-1 Wolves won for an eighth straight outing, maintaining a two-point lead over next weekend’s opponent – the McMaster Marauders – in the race for the OUA West.
“It’s always good to get a win, no matter what team it is, but to beat Windsor, a team that is so physical and so tough and so hard to beat at times, I’m glad that we found a way tonight,” said Grant, who was just 12 the last time the Wolves defeated the Lancers, a 95-86 win on Jan. 6, 2007.
Grant scored nine in a low-scoring first that saw Lakehead edge in front of Windsor 13-10. They pushed their lead to 20-10 in the second, the Lancers not scoring until there was 3:43 left until halftime. But they made the most of the remaining first-half time, closing the gap to as little as six before Tiffany Reynolds closed the second with a basket that gave her side a 27-19 lead.
A Nikki Ylagan three-pointer early in the third – she’d finish with just five points and make just one of six three-point attempts – vaulted LU in front by 11, a lead they’d maintain through 30 minutes.
But the fourth wasn’t the finish Kreiner and company were looking for.
Windsor’s Eve Uwayesu closed the gap to five with an acrobatic reverse lay-up. After Grant stretched the lead to eight with her final bucket of the night late in the fourth, Nyamouch Teny dropped a three and then Samantha Gucciardi buried a pair of penalty free throws with 1:57 to go, the Lancers climbing to within three.
A turnover gave the ball back to Windsor with 48 seconds left in regulation, but Olivia Osamusali gave it right back. Reynolds intercepted a pass and headed to the line after being fouled, where she hit one of two to make it a four-point lead again with less than 30 seconds to go.
Grant said their current hot streak is mostly mind over matter.
“We have a mindset and we’re trying to play every game as if it was a playoff game. We’re carrying over our teachings from practice and just playing to the best of our ability.”
The Wolves and Warriors tip off again on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse.